Sunday, 3 April 2011

So ... What's It Like?

So what's it like being bipolar? It has its ups & downs (hahaha, I'm a comedy genius).

For anyone who isn't sure, bipolar disorder is the 'new' name for manic depression. So it's periods of mania, or elevated moods, & periods of depression, & sometimes a weird mix of the two. My own experience is by no means as severe as some; I've heard some real horror stories about people who are so severely afflicted that they can't function properly, are constantly on the verge of suicide, or get totally out of control with their manic states. In comparison, my case is mild.

But that's me being objective. Ask me if it's mild when I'm in the middle of a depressive state & I'd probably either punch you or cry. Or both. When I'm depressed, everything is falling down around me, everything is going wrong & it's all my fault. I'm too timid, I'm too stupid, I'm too weak, I'm fundamentally flawed in such a way that I am a drain on everyone & everything around me. Every mistake I ever made comes back to haunt me. As well as this, I get physically exhausted; it is a monumental struggle to summon enough energy just to get through the day. I'm slow, clumsier, weaker, & I have trouble thinking clearly. It's like I'm thinking & moving through soup. Everything - EVERYTHING - is just ... too ... hard.

On the flip side, sometimes I feel great. There's nothing wrong with feeling great ... except sometimes when I'm feeling good I start to notice little things that aren't quite right. Like I'm talking too fast, or too loud, & people are giving me funny looks. Or my thoughts are racing too fast, & I have trouble making myself understood because I can't get the words out as fast as I'm thinking them ... so I get tongue-tied & frustrated. I can't get things done as fast as I feel I should be able to either; it's literally like my body can't keep up with my brain. Sometimes I get shaky & feel wired, like I've had too much coffee. If I'm sitting still, I get fidgety, I feel like I have to do something, anything, RIGHT NOW, to use up all this energy I have. Sometimes it sort of reverses itself & instead of feeling good, I feel irritable, frustrated, always on edge ... which turns to panicky & anxious, which occasionally turns into depression ...

Now what with me being me, I don't always show a lot of this. I've never been good at showing weakness. I can tell people there's something wrong with me, but I don't like them to see it. So I hide it when I'm feeling depressed, & if I catch myself going in the other direction (& I don't always) I try to rein that in too. I think it's fair to say that unless it's very bad, most people won't notice when I'm in 'one of my moods'. For better or worse ... it's probably my tendency to hide it that meant it took so long for me to get help. I've been struggling with what I considered depression or mood swings for ... oh, 8 odd years now. At least.

What's it like knowing I'm bipolar? Well, initially it was a relief just to put a name to it. People fear what they don't understand, right? So I want to understand this. Then I can stop being afraid of it & start dealing with it. At least, that's the plan!

But sometimes it does seem slightly absurd to me. I'm bipolar? Sometimes it's hard to believe that what I'm suffering qualifies. I can function; I can hold down a job & a relationship, I have lots of friends. If I'm bipolar, shouldn't I be worse than this? It turns out that bipolar has many levels of severity, like most other things. I watched a documentary called 'The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive' with Stephen Fry, & it made me realise that it's not so clear-cut ...

Still, it's weird. Sometimes it sems that life, the universe, whatever, has ben trying to give me little clues for a while now. I've been a big Emilie Autumn fan for a while now, & she's bipolar; she sings about it & writes about it constantly in her work. I never stopped to wonder why her music resonated with me so strongly until now. I'm into live action roleplay, & for a while I was playing a manic-depresive Malkavian in a Vampire: The Masquerade game, & I had to take a break from that because it was making me feel kind of  weird (in effect, I suppose I was triggering myself? If that's possible?). All over the place, I was starting to hear about more & more people - both celebrities & people I know - who are bipolar. And now this ...

When my counsellor suggested it, I was surprised. I didn't think she was right. When I looked into it a little, I thought she might - MIGHT - have a point. Then I went through a lot of wondering if I was deluding myself - a touch of hypochondria, or maybe I thought it was king of cool, kind of kooky as I like to be? But then I thought of the drugs, that at some point I'll probably have to start taking, & keep taking for the rest of my life. I thought of the Stephen Fry documentary, & the part where they discuss the dangers of getting pregnant when you're bipolar, & of course the fact that it's often passed on to the children (I want kids one day, but now I'm not so sure it's a good idea). Not to mention the suffering of some of those poor people interviewed ... a guy who threw himself in front of a speeding lorry ... a woman who sometimes gets so depressed she can't make herself even move ... Yeah, ok, this is not cool. In the end, I just resolved to be as honest as I could when I spoke to my doctors, & let them decide.

So I'm bipolar, & at first I was scared. What does it mean for me? What's going to happen? How will I cope? I figure the answer is simple: I've been coping with it for a while now, sometimes well, sometimes not so well. Only now I have a name for it. & now that I know what it is, hopefully I can find other ways to cope, & things will be easier.

Wow, that was a long one ...

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